Posted in Bamidbar on Tuesday, 14 June 2011.

The gifts of the Levites (18:21-24)

How are the “Gifts to the Levites” (v. 21-24) connected with the rebellion of Korach, the theme of our Parsha?

At first glance, Korach’s rebellion appears to be hypocritical, for while he complained to Moshe and Aharon, “Why have you made your­ selves elite over God’s assembly” (16:3), Korach nevertheless sought to become the High Priest himself.

Chasidic thought reconciles this contradiction, by explain­ ing that Korach sought a different kind of priesthood, one in which the priests remain aloof and removed from the people. “There is nothing wrong with there being a spiritual elite,” Korach would argue, “but they should not be ‘over God’s assembly,’ as leaders of the people.”

Therefore, as a direct response to Korach’s complaint, the mitzvah of gifts to the priests was given. For these gifts emphasize how the priests and the people are closely connected with each other, to the extent that the people support the priests with gifts.

However, this still does not represent a total rebuttal of Korach’s position. For, ultimately, the priestly gifts are God’s property (or the priests’s property) which is found in the hands of the people, and must be returned to the priest (see v. 12-13). So, on a deeper level, the idea that the people's own property is connected with the priests is still lacking.

Therefore the Torah now records the gifts to the Levites, in which the people’s own property is given away in support of the Levites, demonstrating a much more fundamental connection between the people and their spiritual leaders.

(Based on Likutei Sichos vol. 18, p. 218ff.)

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